Both the non-M BMW 3 Series sedan and 4 Series coupe have so far brought much pleasure to us at Autoblog. The terrific four-cylinder 328i trim has become our favorite of the 3 Series line, while we have yet to get a chance at the 428i coupe. That said, the 35i trim powered by a 3.0-liter TwinPower Turbo inline six-cylinder engine is not exactly to be sniffed at.
We all know the ones you're really waiting for, though. The F80 fifth-generation M3 sedan and the supremely sexy F82 M4 coupe. Rumors have been buzzing for a couple of years now that the engine would be another V8, only turbocharged this time, or else a tri-turbo six. Well, today BMW confirmed that the mill under the hood's power bulge is a 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder TwinPower Turbo of the biturbo variety, referred to internally as "S55B30 variant."
We were brought to a small airfield outside of Munich, Germany recently to receive an almost complete tech breakdown, as well as get taxi drives through a forest of laid-out cones with BMW DTM champion drivers at the wheel of both the new M3 and M4 verification prototypes. Weather was thankfully perfect, so the rides we had were as good as it's going to get until we have at it firsthand after the cars officially debut at the Detroit Auto Show in January.
The experts on hand tell us that weight is contained down to old E46 (1999-2006) M3 levels, so right around 3,300 pounds for the M4 coupe and just a little more for the M3 sedan. Aside from weight improvements, the overall chassis structure (as is the norm these days) will twist and bend less than its predecessors. Both models tested here wore standard 19-inch forged alloys with Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires – 255/35 ZR19 92Y front and 275/35 ZR19 100Y rear – and optional Brembo-SGL carbon ceramic brake discs. The only measure we got on the optional brakes was 15.7 inches in front with four-pot calipers.
Weight is contained down to old E46 (1999-2006) M3 levels.
They did talk horsepower, though, and confirmed those official numbers today in a press release: 430 hp at 7,300 rpm and torque "well above 500 Newton meters (369 pound-feet)" between roughly 1,800 and 5,200 rpm. If the E90 and E92 (2006-2011) M3s could hit 60 mph in 3.9 seconds with their M-DCT automatic transmission and high-revving V8, the new F80 and F82 sedan and coupe will do at least equally well with this smaller but heavier breathing engine.
The stuff we learned while sitting in clinical white rooms staring at projection screens and whatnot was naturally pretty telling, and then the taxi drives put pay to most of it. Whereas on the standard cars the 4 Series coupe is wider in the back versus the 3 Series sedan, everything is essentially the same chassis-wise between the two M models.
We were noticing a tendency at this gathering with every expert from BMW M present, from president of M Friedrich Nitschke to product management boss Carsten Pries. That tendency was to say almost nothing at all specifically about the F80 M3 sedan and practically everything in reference to the F82 M4 coupe. We're not scooping anything here, but it was interesting to notice. We personally were led to think that perhaps the M3 is gradually being put in the background to let the sexier and more profitable image-leading M4 coupe, convertible and future Gran Coupe take the wider stage and handle all future racing efforts. It does seem inevitable, doesn't it? Go ahead and pout now; it's sort of the end of a long and very cool era.
Everything is essentially the same chassis-wise between the two M models.
By switching out the 4.0-liter naturally aspirated V8 in the outgoing M3 lineup for the latest 3.0-liter inline-six, the weight over the front axle has decreased about 25 pounds, and that weight is able to be supported slightly further back than was the case with the V8. Weight distribution is now 49.6 percent front and 50.4 percent rear, so pretty much square.
All three prototypes driven by BMW's three horribly fit DTM dudes were equipped with the all-new six-speed manual transmission, which replaces one that was actually already pretty good. But again, this was interesting to notice in that it led several present to believe that the M-DCT dual-clutch seven-speed transmission is simply less fun when it's time to really show how involving the M3 and M4 can be. Don't quote us, but it was a possible source of scuttlebutt.
They are cars that – gasp! – perhaps anyone can drive well.
As we were regaled with underbody details earlier by M tech development boss Albert Biermann, we were prepared to feel awesomeness on the track, particularly from the rear half of the cars. All units come with a newly developed locking rear differential that incorporates a new drift detection sensor. Once there is drift, the thing simply locks right up. The funny thing is that the drifting, even at points through the cones that screamed for it, seemed so sensible and controllable. We felt clearly that both cars have been developed to give us fewer yips, go around a lap faster and more efficiently, and gnaw at the pavement with no sense of graceful floating. They are cars that – gasp! – perhaps anyone can drive well. That gets so nervy to start talking about with sports icons like the Porsche 911, Lamborghini Gallardo and BMW M cars, but they're all doing it and it's smart business.
Both the M3 four-door and M4 coupe felt undeniably stuck to the pavement, even through slaloms that were taken aggressively at high speeds and with the cones set a little closer together than is the norm. Phase for phase, things happen at lower revs on these new Ms versus their naturally aspirated V8 predecessors, so this lends itself to more poise throughout the experience. The newly designed biturbo engine is attached right up against the exhaust manifold for exhaust-gas recirculation quickness and efficiency, while the intercooler is now atop the engine instead of in front of it, also for quicker delivery to the intakes of the coolest possible air. At lower revs, too, the turbos are kept spinning so that lag is essentially gone from the equation.
Things happen at lower revs on these new Ms versus their naturally aspirated V8 predecessors.
And that's what we were feeling. This new M3 and M4 feel a bit like they are constantly at the ready, sinews tensed, chassis scraping at the pavement instead of coasting over it. Whereas the previous M3 lineup has been at times characterized as feeling a little heavy with a little too much dance in it, these new cars are determined to help BMW take back some of its aggression in the midsize segments. The new tubular steel front and rear axle carriers are bolted straight to the chassis with no dense rubber bushings anymore, so we were feeling all of the energy thrust in the chassis as the tech folks had described.
Will the new six-speed manual be coming over to what is traditionally a great manual market for this level of sports car – the United States? BMW USA has said no a couple times, but today's information dump of specs doesn't rule it out. The latest M-DCT transmission is a nice piece of work, but this is the M3 and M4, and they would do nicely here with an available manual for that vocal percentage of buyers.
Deliveries start in spring of 2014 for both cars. They are so much alike in M format – versus the standard cars that have distinct differences – that we scratch our collective head a bit over the prospect of the M4 coupe and convertible being perhaps significantly more expensive even than what we postulate here in the Vital Stats versus the M3.
Other than those quandaries, let the planning for the inevitable intense head-to-head comparos begin.